Saturday, July 18, 2015

Death Merchant #50: The Hellbomb Theft

Only three days after the end of his last assignment in South Yemen, detailed in Night Of The Peacock, Richard Camellion is in Frankfort, West Germany, tracking members of the terrorist organization, the Brotherhood.

It turns out the previous mission was only half-completed. Before Colonel al Bin Shaabi was killed by the Death Merchant, he had extensive conversations with Muammar Kaddafi, the "crackpot dictator of Libya". Kaddafi is still expecting delivery of two ADMs (Atomic Demolition Munitions or "Little A's", as the CIA calls them). It's up to the DM (working under the name Norlyn Kester) to find the suitcase bombs before it is too late.

After an explosion at Ramstein Air Force Base, 20 men are found dead and 2 ADMs were stolen. That afternoon, a KGB agent walks into the US embassy in Bonn with information on the two stolen mini-nukes. The bombs have been stolen by a "world-wide criminal syndicate" known as the Brotherhood and the KGB has proof that Kaddafi has paid the Brotherhood $135 million to steal and deliver the ADMs to him. Kaddafi plans to have the bombs smuggled into Tel Aviv and detonated. The Russians end up working with the US to find the bombs and keep them out of Kaddafi's hands.

The Hellbomb Theft includes raids on a furniture factory, a farmhouse, an abandoned brewery, and a castle. After Camellion and his commando crew gain access to the brewery by crawling through an abandoned sewer pipe (they "felt that they were moving within the giant bowel of some alien animal"), author Joseph Rosenberger takes time out to explain how beer is made. And in the big fight at the castle, even after everyone's ammo is exhausted and the men are fighting only with their hands or using empty weapons as blunt instruments, Rosenberger fills 11 pages with intensely-described action.

And in what I think is a first in the Death Merchant series, Camellion is actual shot and wounded during the final moments of the raid. He passes out, only to awaken a few days later in a hospital bed. He is told he nearly bled to death. His next mission, in Peru, will have to wait approximately six weeks until he recovers.

As is usually the case with Rosenberger, it is the non-plot stuff that is most entertaining.

With the Russians and Americans working together, there are plenty of opportunities for political discussions that are little more than pointing out the hypocrisies and bad deeds of each nation (and who supports terrorism more). There is also a two-page discussion about Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Just because.

In discussing the search mission of the Germans and the fact that the bombs are likely still hidden in West Germany, Camellion notes that the terrorists would not have had time to drive the bombs out of the country:
"[T]hey would have had to drive very slowly through the six villages or else risk arousing suspicion. German traffic police don't take kindly to speeding."

Albert Wittenborn interrupted, saying heartily, "You can say that again, Kester. A driver caught drunk behind a wheel loses his license for one year, even if it's his first offense. It's a good law."

"We should have such a law in the States," tacked on Arnie Stipe, shifting about in his chair. "We don't because the good liberals won't permit such inhuman treatment of drunken trash."
Relaxing on a flight to Munich, Camellion muses about BND agent Paul Richelman and his belief "that war is just around the corner".
Richelman was basing his belief on the predictions of Nostradamus, the sixteenth century French physician and astrologist who had correctly predicted, among other things, the rise of Napoleon in the early 1800s, the coming to power of militaristic leaders in Italy, Germany, and Spain - Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco - the two world wars and World War III.

If one was to believe Nostradamus, World War III would break out before 1986, a world-wide conflict in the U.S., England, and France, and religious persecution in Poland. West Germany, the most powerful nation in Europe, would be invaded by a Soviet-Arab army that would land on the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France. The war would last three years and seven months. Western Europe would be occupied by the Soviet Red Army for two years. Paris and Rome would be completely destroyed.

The Soviet Union would eventually lose, suffering a series of serious defeats at the hands of the Americans. One such defeat would be in Italy, another one somewhere in the Alps. The final Soviet defeat would take place in Armenia, now a part of the Soviet Union and of Turkey.

The Death Merchant knew that world trends and indicators now had a striking similarity with those in 1937, 1938, and 1939. His own research indicated that ...

Richelman had said to Camellion, "Nineteen eighty-two will be the beginning of riots and civil disorder in the United States. The danger of the United States begin involved in a war is very great in 1983. You see, Herr Kester, Mars is forming a conjunction with its midheavens." As an astrologer, Richelman had made a chart for Washington, D.C., and explained that, since the planet Mars is related to military activity, the implications that the United States would be involved in a world war - "Or at least a major conflict!" - were extremely apparent.

Frightening? Not to the Death Merchant, who knew that it was ignorance and a lack of knowledge of man's true role and place in the Universe that generated fear in society, especially fear of the unknown.

Camellion smiled softly to himself. What would the "man-on-the-street" think if the United States government announced that for the past seventeen years the government had known that an intelligence from outside our own "Milky Way" galaxy had been "observing" Earth for thousands of years and, over the years, had made contact with certain individuals on this planet. [A footnote refers readers to two Death Merchant books: The Shambhala Strike (#30) and The Bermuda Triangle Action (#37) as proof!] ...

Men in general are not meant to know certain things, certain hidden knowledge that, if known to the world's people, would destroy them.

Man is a sleeping puppet playing at ceremonial charades called religion!

The Death Merchant knew it. Paul Richelman knew it. Both knew that the creature called Man is a bridge between two worlds, the earthly and the supersensitive, between the "real" and the "unreal".
Rosenberger continues for another two pages, culminating in an anti-religion rant. Camellion agrees with Richelman that "America is now in danger from crackpots who believe they are doing the 'will of God'":
The Moral Majority - in reality a minority of self-righteous loudmouths - were shredding the spiritual fabric of American society by their constant attack on diversity of opinion, threatening through political pressure and public denunciation anyone who might dare disagree with their Hitler-like authoritarian positions. Bible-pounding boobs who peddle coercion, who go about pressing for "truths" and "doctrines" that are dangerous fairy tales of nonsense. The same idiots who maintain that "God doesn't hear the prayers of Jews!" Uneducated, steeped-in-stupidity polyester "mystics" who have brought about a resurrection of bigotry that is manifesting itself in racism and discriminatory postures!
Later, Camellion and a German named Bruno Zeitenhausen discuss "law enforcement efforts" in the United States. It turns out that (coincidentally!) Zeitenhausen holds the exact same opinions as most of the DM series' characters: he blames minorities for everything bad.
"It is not the fault of your American policemen," Zeitenhausen had said. "It is the fault of your politicians who kiss the arsch of the so called minorities, the blacks and the browns who have already wrecked your nation with violence. It will become worse, with riots in all your cities. It will happen because you Americans do not know how to control the savages in your midst. There is nothing more destructive to any society that the unequal philosophy of 'equal rights,' which conveniently ignores equal responsibility. American, your nation has already been invaded. The 'Hun' is already in your midst."
Camellion agrees: "Liberals always condemn violently anyone who disagrees with their bigoted doctrines."

With Rosenberger needing to describe every gun being used and the caliber of everyone's ammunition - he did this much less in the earlier books, so I assume this was the trend in the industry - the action scenes get a bit clogged:
The Death Merchant jumped back in time. A wave of 5.56 x 45mm (or .223 Remington) and 7.62mm x 25 Tokarev projectiles flooded over the two doors and turned the thick glass into a million pieces of sharp fragments. ...

Weapons consisted of a Heckler & Koch MP 5K sub-machine gun ... and a P-38 Walther autopistol, with five spare magazines. ... [T]he German agents carried autoloaders of various makes, all Walthers, P9Ss, PSPs and VP70Zs. Conversely, the Company men carries pistols of non-German manufacture. Arnold Stipe was armed with two 9mm Berettas. Wittleborn carried two 9mm Colt Commanders, Cutler two Safari Arms .45 Enforcers in the side pockets of his fatigues. ... The Death Merchant carried not only a MP 5K SMG ... but a .44 "Backpacker" Auto Mag in a belt holster and two .45 MatchMakers ... He also carried a hand-held Model AM-180 short-barrelled .22 SMG.
Etc.:

The night "was as black as the inside of a barrel buried in concrete".

The barn was "deserted - as empty as the head of a Russian peasant".

Jablonsky: "a Czech so fat he must have left stretch marks on any vehicle he entered".

"Kurk Gnagi, who had a face like a scrambled egg ..."

"Ridiculous! That pig farmer from Mother Russia is better dressed than any of us. How does a peasant from the land of the red oink-oink rate a suit from an exclusive men's shop in London's Savile Row?"

"The sows in the barnyard of the Soviet Union tend to be as lumpy (in the wrong places) as a flophouse mattress."

"Our consciousness is only a value that permits but a few drops of awareness to trickle through, just as much as is necessary for us to stay alive on this particular little dot of a planet - without our going stark raving mad!"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Death Merchant #49: Night Of The Peacock

The Death Merchant is in South Yemen, trying to stop Colonel Qahtan al Bin Shaabi (of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) from collaborating with various Russian officials on a possible invasion and annexation of North Yemen. Richard Camellion, who claims to abhor racism of any type, is tasked to battle what he refers to as terrorist "sand crabs" in the Middle East.

Night of the Peacock opens with Camellion sneaking up on Rabadh Yahya Tabriz's desert camp. The goal is to assassinate Tabriz, the leader of the Dasni (or Yezidis), who is expected to offer military support to Shaabi. Shaabi needs the Dasni rebels on his side when he attacks North Yemen, and the Soviets need Shaabi and his Marxist goons in an ultimate move against Saudi Arabia. Author Joseph Rosenberger helpfully offers a ton of background information on Yemeni history, outlining the succession of governments, and various coups and actions.

Camellion (as a representative of the CIA) is working with members of Sons of the Falcon, an underground organization in South Yemen, and one that is virulent anti-Shaabi. However, although Camellion and his men kill a few Dasni guards, they are unable to get Tabriz. So they hot-foot it away from the village of Danikil and fly back to Riyadh to discuss their next moves.

Soon, Camellion and eight other men (and 29 camels) are walking across the desert, disguised as Bedouins. They are making their way, over the course of about 10 days, from Al-Lu-baylah (a small oasis on the edge of Rub' al Khali) to the city of Aden. Rosenberger devotes several chapters to the monotonous journey of crossing the "Empty Quarter". They meet other groups of travellers and for awhile you think some violence might break out, but nothing happens.

One thing Rosenberger does in all of these books is provide in-depth descriptions of the cities, the citizens and their customs. They often read like encyclopedia entries - he apparently relied heavily on back issues of National Geographic - and have little-to-nothing to do with the plot, but they do show his high level of research, something that was much harder to do in the early 1980s:
The Death Merchant and his small band, now mingling with a stream of traffic pouring into the city - people of the various Arab tribes riding camels, horses, donkeys; or leading packed camels, horses or donkeys - saw their first Yemeni houses on the northeast side of the city, fortresslike houses built of multicolored stone or brightly painted adobe mud brick, some three stories high. Some houses had tiny windows and crenelated roofs, others layered rows of stone slate jutting out to protect the walls against the seasonal rains.

This was the old spice route and this river of traffic would enter the Crater, the old commercial quarter of Aden. There were three other quarters - at-Tawāhī, the business section, Ma'alah, the native harbor area, and at-Wanani, a small residential section for the wealthy and the influential. ...

There were hundreds of travelers spread out along the stone-paved route, men and women from the various Middle East and African tribes - not all of them Semites as were the Arabs. There were the Hamitic Beja from the northern Sudan, with their copper-red to deep-brown skin; the tall Beraber with their colorful clothes and pretty unveiled women, the arms of the females loaded down with copper and brass bracelets; people of the Zeer, Yafelman, Zemmun and other tribes who spoke the Berber language. And many, many Arabs; the Djerba, the Filala, the kabyle, the Shammar, etc.
In Aden, they meet with Nuri Boustani and his group, Ibn'u Alib Saqr. After learning from Boustani that Shaabi will be departing from the Aden airport in two days, Camellion formulates a plan of attack at the airport. The men with him are not too keen on the idea: "Today we are fire. Tomorrow, we will be ashes."

Nevertheless, the group approaches the airport at night, kills a couple of guards patrolling the perimeters, and steals their uniforms. While wearing the uniforms, Camellion and Colonel bin Maktum are able to commandeer an armoured car, crash a hole in the protective fence and let the rest of the group through. In a repeat of the action described in at least one previous DM book, they drive two armoured cars around the airport, blasting the holy hell out of everything and everyone. With the airport in ruins - Shaabi survives, hiding in one of the hangars - they head towards a Soviet transport plane, in which Camellion aims to have everyone escape.

The action of Camellion flying the plane from takeoff to an extremely bumpy landing in the mountains is pretty suspenseful, even though the reader knows there is absolutely no way that Camellion won't land it safely. (Because this is Rosenberger, Camellion also has random thoughts flitting through his head during the flight, most notably how crime rates have risen in California because of the abolition of the death penalty.) The men meet up with Yadollah I'Zoir, who leads them through the mountains to meet Ali Sa'galli, the head of the Sons of the Falcon. Camellion and Sa'galli have a multi-page conversation about Soviet expansionism, the stupidity of the U.S. government, and the insanity of gun control. The Death Merchant also rants about having to pay five-cent deposits on beer and soda bottles! ("Instead of cracking down on people who litter, they force nonlitterers to pay deposits on beverage bottles to ensure their return.")

Later, the Death Merchant lays out the particulars of Operation Camelback, which will include Sa'galli's fighters, as well as 200 professional mercenaries - Mad Mike Quinlan and his Thunderbolt Unit: Omega. They will be transported to Aden to attack the heart of the capital: the Government House. But Camellion soon receives a message that Shaabi knows their location (his planes have been flying overhead) and is meeting with Tabriz, formulating a plan to attack with a force of 600 men. The Aden attack is aborted and the Death Merchant and Quinlan's and Sa'galli's fighters will immediately attack Tabriz's main camp instead.

Fourteen helicopters transport the men to the site of the attack. First, five of the copters fire tens of thousands of rounds into the village of Danikil. The five copters can fire a total of 36,000 rounds per minute and they lay waste to nearly everyone in the village. All of the copters land and the armed men jump out, ready to finish the attack. Shaabi, his assistant, and the three Russians have taken cover in the Temple of Melek Taus. The fighters go house to house in their slaughter and, eventually, converge on the temple. Camellion blows open the wooden doors with several blocks of RDX explosives and they charge inside. A fierce shootout ensues, with plenty of martial arts fighting. Naturally, the evil doers are killed.

Rosenberger describes the action in exquisite detail, while also telling us the name of every fighter and exactly what type of firearm and ammunition he is using:
Surprise! The atsonished [sic] Dasni were promptly cut to pieces by Manfred "Scarface" Rohde who started raking the area with a Heckler & Koch GMBH G3A4 automatic rifle. With the battered-faced West German, leaning around the broken and jagged wall stones at the south end of the rip in the east wall, were Rashid al-Khaima, firing an Igram [sic] sub-gun, and Carlos Luis Ceron, an Omega merc from Argentina, who was firing short, deadly bursts of 9mm Parabellum slugs from a Belgian Mitraillette Vigneron M2 chatter box; and while the three men saturated the area with streams of high velocity death, other Omega kill experts poured through the ugly gap and stormed forward, running in a crooked pattern. With them came the Death Merchant, ducking and darting, dodging and weaving, an AMP Alaskan in each hand. A 5.45mm AKS projectile spub by his head, only three centimeters from his left temple. Half an eyeblink later, a 9mm Vitmorkin machine pistol slug, fired by Major Vasili Tarasov, almost struck his wrist as his right arm was raised. Instead of hitting flesh and bone and almost tearing off his hand, the flatnosed slug struck the edge of his Seiko, shattered the wristwatch and sent the blown-apart mechanism to the four hot winds.
Etc.:

Camellion's .44 projectile bored into the left side of the Arab's chest and blew open a hole in his body large enough to permit the passage of ping-pong balls.

As happy as a drunken hillbilly with a credit card, Rashid al-Khaima began firing ...

"Well, kiss my transmission!" (this strange expression is actually used twice)

Death Merchant: "I don't want your brain to rush to your head!"

Cooked human flesh has the aroma of a good grade of pork.

Camellion prepared the explosives "all the while wishing he could hear Liszt's Les Preludes - perfect music to kill by".

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Death Merchant #48: The Psionics War

I miss the goofiness of the earlier Death Merchant books. Joseph Rosenberger's later volumes, while following the same formula, are more serious. They lack the lightness and occasional silliness of, say, the first 20-25 books. But there is still enough to enjoy - and usually enough detailed violence - to keep going.

The Psionics War is a bit light on the carnage, however. Richard Camellion engages in only a couple of small skirmishes before the big finale. For most of this book, we follow the Death Merchant as he plans what he will do later in the book. Chapter after chapter of planning ...

Dr. Wayne Davis is a psionics expert whose research into mind control is of great interest to the U.S. military as a valuable new military weapon. Naturally, his knowledge is also desired by the KGB/Soviet Union. With Davis's Alpha One machine, an operator can focus in on someone miles away and kill him simply by thought. While the U.S. is ahead of the Russians in many aspects of the Cold War, psionics is not one of them. Davis's unit could give them the upperhand if he is willing to share his secrets. The U.S. appeals to his hatred of communism and he agrees. However, the doctor and his assistant (and two CIA men travelling with him) never show up to meet the Death Merchant at Kennedy Airport. Camellion suspects they were somehow kidnapped by the KGB, and it's up to him to find Dr. Davis.

While Camellion walks to his car in the airport parking garage, someone takes a shot at him. He returns fire and ends up killing three men and one woman. Camellion discovers that one of the shooters, a hood named Manny Rich, kept a veterinarian's receipt tucked into a hidden part of his wallet. Camellion plays psychologist and says that Rich kept the receipt safe because it represented his dog, and because he loved his dog, having the receipt represented "psychological comfort".

Camellion and CIA man Merle Duvane talk to the vet who notes that Rich made a strange request. After his dog's operation, he wanted the dog delivered to a different address, to an apartment building in Yonkers. Camellion and a few others go to this building (which Rosenberger calls both the Ark and the Arms at various points) and find KGB agents hustling Arnold Quincy (a friend of Rich's) through the lobby. During and after a brief shootout, Camellion has to kill nine innocent bystanders so there are no witnesses to their presence in the building and nearby alley. (Four of the dead are "black dudes" caught trying to strip their van. One remarks: "Bet they done kidnap that por man they is carryin." Camellion pronounces: "They were trash that interfered. The penalty for that is always death.")

They take Quincy and one of the unconscious Russians to a series of safe houses, including Amityville, New York. They pump the Russian for information, but he isn't cooperating. Camellion, remembering his aversion to rats when chained in the basement of one of the safe houses, devises a coffin-like structure into which the Russian is lain and several rats are let loose on his chest. He freaks out and talks. The Russians plan to take Dr. Davis and his assistant to a farm in Patten, Maine, then to St. John's, Newfoundland, on their way to a weather station on Resolution Island. There is a team of Canadian researchers at that station, but the Russians plan to overpower them.

The Russians plan to conduct an experiment with their own weapon, something called an L-Wave Disrupter, which will cause blackouts in the Canadian capital of Ottawa and also increase murder and suicide rates in the city by means of mind control. They will then take Davis back to Russia.

Camellion and a team of American and Canadian commandos attack a fish oil refinery in St. John's, where Davis was apparently being held. (The Death Merchant is not happy about the set-up: "A white blind honkey in South Chicago would have a better chance!") Nevertheless, they wipe out a lot of the Soviet enemy, and one of the wounded reveals the name of the vessel on which Davis is being transported. After considering all the angles, the Death Merchant decides that they must wait until the Russians take control of the weather station before moving in and grabbing Davis, as well as the Russians' L-Wave Disrupter.

After this decision is made, Rosenberger uses the next several chapters setting the stage. At length. What equipment will Camellion need, how will the various items function, in what order are their tasks going to be completed, what might the Soviets do, and what would each possibility mean, etc., etc. There is plenty of time for this as the men sail to the north. (I have read complaints about Rosenberger's over reliance on planning, and I finally see to what those readers must have been referring.)

The Death Merchant and his team get to Resolution Island at the perfect time - after some of the Russians have taken control of the weather station but before another group has come ashore with four scientists and the L-Wave Disrupter. On the island is "a landscape such as Milton or Dante might have imagined ... inorganic, desolate, mysterious". The Americans and Canadians hide among the rocks and when the Russians come walking along to the station, they open fire. Camellion's group also engages in a healthy amount of hand-to-hand combat. The second group storms the weather station and is able to surprise the Russians so completely that they are overwhelmed.

Having won the battle on the island, Camellion et al. notice that the Soviet submarine is moving straight towards the shore and soon begins shooting 75mm shells at the station building. The men get down to the shoreline, but realize that if they try to travel back to their ship, the submarine will likely target them. At the last minute, a wounded Dr. Davis speaks up - and offers his secret knowledge in order to destroy the submarine. It's pretty nutty resolution. Davis draws an outline of a submarine on a piece of paper and writes the name of the sub (Eugene Origen) on it. Then he asks Camellion to fire a bullet through the crude drawing of the sub. Davis then places the paper with the hole in it in the "well" of the L-Wave Disrupter and begins turning a few knobs. (Rosenberger spends two pages explaining the science behind all of this.) And sure enough, there is soon an explosion from out in the harbour - the submarine has exploded! As one of the men says, psionics "is the weapon of the future, and the future is now!"

The end.

Etc:

While including a bunch of information on government mind control experiments and other parapsychological research (telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, out-of-body experiences, remote viewing), Rosenberger mentions, in a footnote on page 8, that while working as a "Security Officer", he "was forced to kill three men" and he had an out-of-body experience afterwards. He gives no other details.

"People need religion," [Camellion] said. "It gives the little morons the means by which they can halfway triumph over big bad death. The average man fears death because he fears the loss of human identity and integrity in a transient stream of atoms. He doesn't know it but his anxiety over so-called 'death' results from nothing more than the frustration of not being able to have life without death, that is, of not being able to solve a nonsensical problem. ... But the Cosmic Lord of Death gets them all in the end..."

While being held by the Russians, Dr. Davis refers to the Soviet Union as "that big pigpen" - an odd insult, yet similar to Camellion's often-used slur "pig farmers".

"Sweating more than a Black Muslim who had been caught spying at a KKK rally, Brown stopped, threw up his arms and tried to twist his gorillalike face into a friendly grin."

"Like people, neighborhoods change. While Tenth Avenue [in Yonkers, New York] was not exactly a slum area, the neighborhood was not of a type where one found the best people. ... Minority groups had moved into the area."

"Merle Duvane was busier than a one-toothed mouse in a roomful of cheddar."

"You might as well try to convince me that a doughnut is a pregnant Cheerio."

"He looked as oily as a corporate head and as scared as an Arab at a Barmitzvah!"

"I understand," Moan said, "sounding as cranky as an old maid who had discovered a man wasn't under her bed."

The Death Merchant calls out someone for making a racist remark, saying the speaker's mind is obviously not "cluttered up with facts and knowledge". However, after receiving a coded message about his next mission, Camellion muses, "I don't like the desert and I like sand crabs and their Moslem crackpotism even less."

During the final fight, a Russian yells, "Idyi zho ssat ya natyb yahachoo!" Rosenberger footnotes this (presumably nonsense) phrase: "Too vulgar to be stated in English."

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Stephen King: Cell (2006)

At 3:00 PM on a sunny October afternoon in Boston, graphic novelist Clay Riddell witnesses the beginning of the end of the world. As he later learns, an electronic pulse has been sent out over all cell phone lines, turning anyone who is using a phone into a violent, mindless zombie; people who later use cell phones - such as in response to the ensuing carnage - are also affected.

Stephen King exercises his anti-technology muscles in Cell, a 350-page book that would have worked much better for me as a novella. The main plot concerns Riddell travelling on foot to his home in Maine, hoping to learn the fate of his 12-year-old son Johnny.

Soon after the Pulse (as it is called among the group of survivors we follow), Clay meets up with a middle-aged man named Tom McCourt. At first, they wonder if this is another terrorist attack. Hearing huge explosions coming from the direction of Logan Airport, Tom cries, "The bastards are doing it by plane again." King's description of the air full of "fine dark ash" from numerous fires evokes downtown Manhattan on 9/11. The diaspora after Hurricane Katrina is also mentioned later in the novel.

A little while later, the two men are joined by a teenaged girl named Alice Maxwell. The three self-described refugees head out of Boston on foot to Tom's house in the suburb of Malden - and then head further north from there, as Clay is obsessed with getting back to his house near Kent Pond in Maine.

The theory in Cell is that the Pulse has wiped out the minds of its victims, like a virus wiping out a computer's hard drive. However, the "phone-crazies" seem to evolve quickly and are soon acting in concert and roaming around in packs. The Pulse has removed the thin veneer of civilization from many citizens and they have reverted back to a more primordial state. A university professor tells Riddell and the others that
man has come to dominate the plant thanks to two essential traits. One is intelligence. The other has been the absolute willingness to kill anyone and anything that gets in his way. Mankind's intelligence finally trumped mankind's killer instinct, and reason came to rule over mankind's maddest impulses. ... [M]ost of us had sublimated the worst in us until the Pulse came along and stripped away everything but that red core.
Besides the thinness of the plot and some rehashed ideas from The Stand (characters communicating through dreams, being drawn to something or a force they have been dreaming about), King has a number of annoying tics that ruined what little pleasure I took from the book. He has the habit of repeating facts, events, and descriptions of people throughout the narrative, as though he doesn't trust his readers to remember what has happened or who a character is. This happens dozens and dozens of times in Cell, and this one example will suffice as an illustration: On page 126, "a man with a pair of flashlights rigged to a kind of harness [on his head]" introduces himself as "Mr. Roscoe Handt of Methuen". A mere three pages later, on page 129, King writes: "... and by four o'clock they were nearing Methuen, hometown of Mr. Roscoe Handt, he of the stereo flashlights".

King also writes a lot of sentences along the lines of "Clay didn't know why he thought that, but he did." In addition, the characters spitball theories about the "phone-crazies" and sort of agree on one possibility. That is then used for the rest of the book as a proven fact and the crazies act accordingly. I see this as a sly trick to push the plot forward among a group cut off from everyone else, but it isn't very well hidden - and it happens a lot in Cell.

Online reviews of the book were mixed. Blog Critics stated that "Cell represents a refreshing, grizzly, creepy and often powerful exploration of the nature of humanity ... [T]he brilliance of Cell is how King manages to mix exploration of humanity with a powerful and engaging apocalyptic story." Pop Matters published a glowing rave: King "creates a kind of sickening dread that only gets deeper as the novel continues. ... [T]he overwhelming feeling of helplessness, fatalism and inevitability makes Cell one of King’s most potent page-turners."

Others faulted King for "flat characters and flatter dialogue". Although King is usually quite good at creating full characters, I agree with this last assessment.

Next: Lisey's Story.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day: "Please Don't Thank Me For My Service"

Camillo Mac Bica:
[P]lease do not thank me for "my service" as a United States Marine. I make this request because my service, as you refer to it, was basically, either to train to become a killer or to actually kill people and blow shit up.

Now, that is not something for which a person should be proud nor thanked. In fact, it is regrettable, and for me a source of guilt and shame, something I will have to live with for the rest of my life, as the past cannot ever be undone. So, when you thank me for my service, it disturbs me ... a lot. ...

Where is the honor, glory and nobility in killing and dying for greed, incompetence, and paranoia? ...

[I]f you really insist on thanking me for something, do not thank me for the eight years I spent as a Marine, but for the 45 or so years following my discharge from the military that I have spent as an activist fighting for human rights and social justice and to end the insanity of war. ... [I]f you truly want to demonstrate your good character, patriotism, and support for the troops and veterans, rather than merely mouth meaningless expressions of gratitude for something you don't truly understand or care much about, do something meaningful and real. Do what is truly in the interest of this nation and of those victimized by war.

Make some demands.

Demand, for example, an immediate end to the corporate takeover of our "democracy" and to the undue influence of the military-industrial-Congressional complex. Demand sanity in Pentagon spending and a reallocation of finite resources to people-focused programs such as health care, education and jobs rather than to killing and destruction. Demand an immediate end to wars for corporate profit, greed, power and hegemony. Demand that we adhere to the Constitution and to international law. Demand accountability for those who make war easily and care more for wealth, profit and power than for national interest or for the welfare of their fellow human beings. And finally, demand the troops be brought home now, and that they be adequately treated and cared for when they return.
tazman69er:
There are numerous points I would like to make in this proclamation, yet, if you only take away one thing, please, don't ever thank me for my "service." For when you thank me for my service, you are thanking me for being a dupe, an unconscious human being, engaged in the enterprise of state sanctioned murder to an "other, over there." ...

When you thank me for my service, you are unconsciously re-affirming your belief that somehow we are fighting "them, over there" so we "don't have to fight them here." You are telling me, "thank you for putting on a state sanctioned uniform costume and murdering 'them' for me, while I look away from the awfulness of state sanctioned murder." ...

My service was nothing other than committing state sanctioned murder on behalf of a bunch of old (mostly white) guys and gals with their own agendas, without regard for humanity. I don't want to be thanked for that. ...

Every time someone thanks me for my "service," it only brings back all of the emotion, guilt and shame for having been duped into the enterprise of war in the first place.
Michael Krieger:
[W]henever I find myself in the midst of a large public gathering (which fortunately isn't that often), and the token veteran or two is called out in front of the masses to "honor" I immediately begin to cringe as a result of a massive internal conflict. On the one hand, I recognize that the veteran(s) being honored is most likely a decent human being. Either poor or extraordinarily brainwashed, the man or woman paraded in front of the crowd is nothing more than a pawn. ...

On the other hand, the entire spectacle makes me sick. I refuse to participate in the superficial charade for many reasons, but the primary one is that I don't want to play any part in the crowd's insatiable imbecility. It's the stupidity and ignorance of the masses that the corporate-state preys upon, and that's precisely what's on full display at these tired and phony imperialist celebrations.
Phil Rockstroh:
Rather than continue to memorialize it, let's bury a reeking heap of noxious and obnoxious mythos: US soldiers did not and do not kill and die defending freedom. The soldiers of militarist empires are not sent to war for any noble purpose. They are trained killers and their mission is conquest in the name of power and for the purpose of plunder. And that is the reason that it is imperative for the beneficiaries of said power and plunder to make sacred the obscenities that the soldiers of empire perpetrate.

This is the task of the hagiographers of war: To make noble and heroic mass murder; to banish any lingering trace of the stench of death. All voices of doubt must be shamed and silenced -- for the lie is fragile.

If the mortifying truth was known then fielding new recruits would prove a daunting task. The empire would be hobbled. Empire's patrician class would have to seek honest work. Sounds like a plan to me.

Memorial day is a marketing roll out. If you desire to make meaningful the deaths of those lost to wars then cease believing the lies of those who grow wealthy from the hideous business of waging it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Death Merchant #47: Operation Skyhook

After pretty much ignoring the entire plot of Blood Bath, and focusing my attention instead on the various characters' political comments, I'm doing something different with Operation Skyhook. I'll summarize each chapter as I go along.

Back cover: "Out Of Orbit". A test version of a Russian satellite "armed with lasers" crash-lands in Indonesia and the Death Merchant - "the slickest, cruelest saboteur in the business" - must race the KGB (and the Indonesians) to nab the dangerous oktok-1.

Chapter 1: After Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion meets with CIA agent Forrest Dasher at a warehouse a few miles outside of Jakarta, they are ambushed coming out of the building. Dasher is killed; Camellion ducks back inside. He eventually kills two three-man teams of Russians and makes his escape back to the city. He thinks about the mission. (It turns out that the name of the satellite is misspelled on the back cover! It's actually Votok-1.) The US managed to override the satellite's electrical instructions and it parachuted to Earth, landing in the mountains of Indonesia. It is now apparently hidden somewhere near Jakarta. The US must possess the inner workings of the satellite at all costs, as it trails the Russians in the space weapons race.

Chapter 2: Colonel Andrew Uzhgorod heads a meeting the following morning at the Soviet Embassy in Jakarta. The Russians debate the encounter at the warehouse and offer all sort of exposition about how they tracked Dasher to the meeting. They also have an informer in the town who saw soldiers, technicians, and other Indonesians dismantling Votok. One of the Russians suspects that the lone agent who wiped out the six would-be assassins was the Cempt Tobtocpam (the Death Merchant).

Chapter 3: More discussion as Camellion (using the name James George Valdorian, a travel journalist) meets with six other men (CIA, SIS and Western Germany military intelligence) at a Jakarta safe house. They suspect that Uzhgorod is the Chief of Station at the Embassy and Camellion suggests they "blackbag" him at his house. (The men recoil in surprise, calling it a "high-octane hazard" and "suicide"). Camellion also requests a map of the city's power generating plant.

Chapter 4: Camellion and Lester Cole are near Uzhgorod's house. Cole is setting up "Mister Fuck-Up", a Microwave Impedator that renders all audio and motion detectors and alarms, etc. useless. When a diversionary explosion at the power plant plunges Jakarta into darkness, the Death Merchant goes to work, cutting a hole in a chain-link fence, killing a guard with a 2-inch steel needle coated with pure nicotine, picking the front door lock, and going inside the house. But it's a trap! Uzhgorod and four KGB attempt to take him alive, but Camellion, using martial arts and his Browning, manages to escape, but he has to kill Uzhgorod to do so.

Chapter 5: Camellion and Cole are on their way back to the getaway car when the Death Merchant has a strong hunch they might be walking into a trap. They use some listening devices and it turns out there are seven members of the Secret Police Agents hiding near the car. C&C split up and circle around and wipe out the goons with bullets and thermate. Three other cars approach and they eliminate them, as well. They steal one of those cars and drive away.

Chapter 6: Major-General Mashuri and Colonel Thojib Sadli of the Indonesian Army discuss events and suspect the two Americans are CIA agents. Although Valdorian and Cole are unlikely to return to their hotel rooms, there are agents waiting just in case. They suspect the explosion at the power plant was a distraction before the kidnap attempt. They must find the Americans, but also suspect that they might be the Americans' next target.

Chapter 7: On a balmy fall day in Tjikini Market, an elderly Chinese man (Camellion in disguise) walks around. Camellion planted listening devices in his hotel room and as they get close to the building, they can hear conversations from the waiting assassins. ("Screw a crippled crab!") He and Cole go instead to the Brass Palace to meet with Chao Bing Thepkok and his assistant. It's unclear why they go to this place, but Thepkok says the local police (GROB) were in asking about Valdorian and Cole, and they had photographs. GROB agents are returning and the four men make their escape through a tunnel accessed from the back room. Camellion leaves behind some explosives to destroy the building and kill the agents. The tunnel exits in a garage owned by Thepkok. Cole kills Thepkok and his assistant and he and Camellion escape in a Toyota. More planted RDX destroys the garage, killing 67 people who live nearby.

Chapter 8: At Soi-Simokk safe house. Pessimism over not finding Votok. The likelihood of nabbing Kdija or Sadli, who are very well-guarded, is small. Maybe they could grab one of their underlings. Camellion needs information on the men surrounding Kdija and Sadli. (Also a quick narrative diversion to call Indonesia food "slop".)

Chapter 9: The Death Merchant decides to get Captain Kuwloon at his apartment in the Morning Rose apartment complex in the middle of the night. GROB has agents across the hall and in the adjoining room and has planted listening devices throughout Kuwloon's apartment. Camellion and Cole sneak in the back of the building, while three others go in front of the apartment house and kill the desk clerk. "Sleeping peacefully, the numerous residents of the apartment house didn't realize that the Cosmic Lord of Death was about to descend on the Morning Rose ..."

Chapter 10: Up the elevator to the 9th floor. Camellion and Cole break into the apartment and quickly kill the 2 half-asleep GROB agents acting as guards. They head for Kuwloon's bedroom and gather him, his wife, and children in one room. Cole has found listening devices and tells Camellion. Camellion takes his Auto Mags and fires through the walls into the adjoining apartments, killing several men and confusing the others. Cole comes out of the bedroom saying that GROB has hidden Votok "in the temple of Pura Besakih on Bali". It turns out he has also killed the entire family; Camellion is upset because Cole disobeyed orders. The surviving GROB agents from the other apartments attack, but they are stopped by a greenish gas ("diphenycyanoarsine") and shot.

Chapter 11: Alkenazy, the next day, discusses the attack on the apartment. The KGB also has information on Votok, as a female agent slept with Indonesia's Minister of the Interior. Now, with the KGB and CIA knowing the true location of Votok, the race is on! It is thought that both sides will use helicopters to bring troops to the side of the mountain.

Chapter 12: The CIA doesn't want to use any American personnel for this mission, so Camellion calls on Mad Mike Ryan and his Thunderbolt Unit: Omega (who apparently will make future appearances in the series). Nine Boeing-Vertol CH-49 copters head towards Mount Agung. They pick up 12 aircraft to the east on radar - Russian copters! But they decide not to fire on them, choosing to have the battle on Gunung Agung, near Pura Besakih, the fabled Hindu temple.

Chapter 13: Fighter jets start the battle from the air, raining down missiles on the temple and the surrounding area. The Indonesian army - a force of 3,000 - is in the clearing around Pura Besakih, but are undertrained and uncertain about firing their weapons. They are summarily slaughtered by both the US and Soviet fighters jets and by the guns aboard the helicopters.

Chapter 14: The Indonesians believed that only the Americans would be attacking and are stunned when the Russians also appear. After jumping out of their copters on opposite sides of the temple area, both the Americans and Russians begin firing missiles at the closest wall of the temple, as whoever gets inside the temple first will have a great advantage in finding the satellite. Both sides plan to lay down a cover of smoke grenades and make a straight-in charge.

Chapter 15: On the DM's side, they race to the temple and are not fired upon by what remains of the Indonesian force. Tossing in grenades and firing machine guns, both sides pour into the temple at nearly the same time. The US has an advantage as they have specially-rigged crossbows that can carry grenades - which they fire across the Sanctum area to where the Russians are. "Two Black Berets and a Soviet Marine became an assortment of arms, legs, and bloody, twisted entrails."

Chapter 16: Camellion, Cole and six mercenaries are hiding behind a huge statue of Siva when they realizes there may be Indonesians hiding inside. There is: Kdija, Sadli, and three others. The DM tosses in a couple of grenades, blowing them apart. Upon inspecting the damage, he spies a door to an underground room and surmises this is where the satellite is being hidden. He plants explosives - and blows the statue apart. When it comes crashing down, it crushes 74 Russian troops. Then Camellion places five blocks of HBX on the underground crates, set the timers, and make their escape. "Once more World War III had been avoided. There would be peace ... for a time ..."

The climatic battle in Operation Skyhook is pretty weak, with Rosenberger offering very little violent interaction between the two forces. Each side goes about its business without much interactions from the other. And the ending comes too abruptly, as though Rosenberger had reached his page limit and wanted to quickly wrap things up.

Etc.:

"Nothing ever came easy in this business - except dying, and I won't be lucky enough to die by a bullet. I'll probably end up broke and living to be ninety, spending my days counting mule fritters!"

..."blowing a hole in the man the diameter of an averaged-sized orange".

"[Camellion fired] seven rounds, three of which struck Sibramanian, killing him faster than a Jew travelling through Damascus on a pogo stick."

"Killing the sons-of-bitches would be as easy as using a shotgun to shoot a baby whale in a bathtub ..."

"Ever look into those eyes of his? I mean really look? It's like a dozen ice picks playing 'Chop Sticks' on your spine."

Rosenberger continues to flip-flop as far as how much information about the Death Merchant is known to foreign governments. Sometimes Camellion is infamous in the spy underworld; other times, like in Operation Skyhook, his identity is not known to any KGB/GRU agents.

Rosenberger mentions Jeff Cooper, who runs something called The American Pistol Institute in Paulden, Arizona. Cooper is quoted several times during the DM's attempted kidnapping of Uzhgorod. Like the oft-mentioned Lee Jurras, Cooper and his Institute are real. Now called Gunsite Academy, it "offers firearm training to elite military personnel, law enforcement officers and free citizens of the US".

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Books Examining The Writing Of David Foster Wallace

Here is some information on three books examining the writing of David Foster Wallace. The first one was published last month and the other two will be published in early 2016.

Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace
The book Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, presented David Foster Wallace's challenge to Richard Taylor's argument for fatalism. In this anthology, notable philosophers engage directly with that work and assess Wallace's reply to Taylor as well as other aspects of Wallace's thought.

With an introduction by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, this collection includes essays by William Hasker (Huntington University), Gila Sher (University of California, San Diego), Marcello Oreste Fiocco (University of California, Irvine), Daniel R. Kelly (Purdue University), Nathan Ballantyne (Fordham University), Justin Tosi (University of Arizona), and Maureen Eckert. These thinkers explore Wallace's philosophical and literary work, illustrating remarkable ways in which his philosophical views influenced and were influenced by themes developed in his other writings, both fictional and nonfictional. Together with Fate, Time, and Language, this critical set unlocks key components of Wallace's work and its traces in modern literature and thought.
The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity and Resistance
This book examines the writing of David Foster Wallace, hailed as the voice of a generation on his death. Critics have identified horror of solipsism, obsession with sincerity and a corresponding ambivalence regarding postmodern irony, and detailed attention to contemporary culture as the central elements of Wallace's writing. Clare Hayes-Brady draws on the evolving discourses of Wallace Studies, focusing on the unifying anti-teleology of his writing, arguing that that position is a fundamentally political response to the condition of neo-liberal America.

She argues that Wallace's work is most unified by its resistance to closure, which pervades the structural, narrative and stylistic elements of his writing. Taking a broadly thematic approach to the numerous types of "failure", or lack of completion, visible throughout his work, the book offers a framework within which to read Wallace's work as a coherent whole, rather than split along the lines of fiction versus non-fiction, or pre- and post-Infinite Jest, two critical positions that have become dominant over the last five years. While demonstrating the centrality of "failure", the book also explores Wallace's approach to sincere communication as a recurring response to what he saw as the inane, self-absorbed commodification of language and society, along with less explored themes such as gender, naming and heroism.

Situating Wallace as both a product of his time and an artist sui generis, Hayes-Brady details his abiding interest in philosophy, language and the struggle for an authentic self in late-twentieth-century America.

This title will be released on February 25, 2016.
The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction
The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace is the first book to explore of key religious themes - from boredom to addiction, and distraction - in the work of one of America's most celebrated contemporary novelists.

In a series of short, topic-focussed chapters, the book joins a supercut of key scenes from Wallace's novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King with clear explanations of how they contribute to his overall account of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century. Adam Miller explores how Wallace's work masterfully investigates the nature of first-world boredom and shows, in the process, how easy it is to get addicted to distraction (chemical, electronic, or otherwise). Implicitly critiquing, excising, and repurposing elements of AA's Twelve Step program, Wallace suggests that the practice of prayer (regardless of belief in God), the patient application of attention to things that seem ordinary and boring, and the internalization of clichés may be the antidote to much of what ails us in the 21st century.

This title will be released on February 25, 2016.